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Headscratchers / The Picture of Dorian Gray

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The painting was Dorian's Soul Jar, and he probably knew it, so why in heck did he freak out when he learned that he was on James Vane's hit list?
Given Our Souls Are Different, Dorian probably was unkillable by any 'normal' means, like getting shot to the head.
  • Note that Dorian still suffered from the withdrawal of his opium addiction and doesn't seem immune to diseases, plus feels the strain of his age. Thus it seems the painting only hid things; it could not erase them entirely — so he could easily either have died from old age or been killed.
  • The limitations of the portrait's ability were somewhat expanded in his (non-canonical) appearance in The League Of Extraordinary Gentleman, where the magic of the portrait literally protects Dorian from physical injury.
  • It may be that Dorian was more afraid of being hunted by a ghost from his past that knows what he did than any physical harm that James Vane might visit on him.
  • He asked that the painting not make him look old or wicked. I don't remember him throwing in a "Hey, make me bulletproof too" line.
  • Even if the painting could, conceivably, protect him from death, Dorian doesn't know that it would. He never really tested its limitations. Why risk it?
  • Was he immortal? Would he had lived for ever, or was he really aging?
  • Well, its stated that people are aging around him while he seems to stay the same age. He probably was immortal. That said, no he didn't know it was a Soul Jar, and he doesn't know if it makes him invincible or not- and it may not have. In the name of magical realism, the author chose not to clarify that issue, and its left open that yes, bullets might kill him.

Why was Basil Hallward ever friends with Lord Henry in the first place?
We see in the very first scene they're in that Basil knows the guy is bad news, and that he disapproves of Lord Henry's warped hedonistic philosophies and despises the poisoning influence he has on people, so why would Basil ever willingly associate with him?
  • As alluded to in the article, both characters have facets of Wilde's personality (Basil is the friendly dedicated artist and Henry is an exaggerated version of the perception of Wilde as a cynical wit). So, it kind of makes sense that the two would hang out, since they are in a sense, the "same person". Outside of that, they have some shared artistic preferences and are likely both gay, so they probably move in the same social circles- although that doesn't really explain why they are friends and not just acquaintances.
  • Reread some of the early dialogue between Basil and Harry - Basil is pretty convinced that Harry is exaggerating his vices, "never [says] a moral thing and never [does] a wrong one," etc. Lord Henry seems like a normal enough (though very cynical and rather tasteless in terms of humour) guy to Basil. Basil may be overly optimistic about that, or he may not - the jury's still out on how "bad news" Harry really is. Aside from lampooning Victorian social mores and encouraging Dorian's vanity/paranoia about aging, we don't see Lord Henry doing anything particularly evil, and he seems to have no idea of what Dorian is really up to by the end of the novel. Lastly, Basil's concern about the role Lord Henry starts to play in Dorian's life could easily be put down to jealousy, rather than knowing that Lord Henry is *evil* per se.
  • I've always seen it as Basil knowing Henry well enough to know while Henry talks a lot, he's just trying to be shocking. Unfortunately, nobody told Dorian it was just an act. While Dorian later became very sneaky, he still lacked the common sense Henry and Basil had, he might have actually believed Henry really did do the horrible deeds he spoke of, hence blaming Henry for his own damnation.
  • Plenty of people today are good friends with people who are Internet trolls. Lord Henry was essentially trolling everyone with his faux-scandalous remarks, but Basil saw through the pretense and didn't hold it against him.
  • It is also mentioned that they are school friends. In real life, people tend to have some nostalgia over the friendships they made during their school years, even when those friends have grown apart.

Why is Lord Henry punished at all? He's the only major character alive by the end of the book
  • I'm slightly confused by the question, but I'll try to answer it as I understand it! He is indeed punished (since his two arguably closest friends are now dead) and he is punished because he is the one who really started this chain of events in the first place. He knew of his influence over Dorian and corrupted him, leading to his demise. He was the one who told Dorian that the only things worthwhile in this life are youth and beauty. Had he not said that, it's likely Dorian would have never made his wish and everything would have been hunky-dory. But he did and his friends died, along with at least three others known and one other alluded to. If he ever realized his part in this tragedy, he'd have to live with that for the rest of his days. If not...well, he's divorced, he's getting old, and has no Dorian or Basil to balance him out. Sounds kind of sucky to me.
  • Sorry I meant why Lord Henry wasn't punished at all. But you answered my question thanks.
  • Alternatively, going with the idea that Lord Henry, Basil and Dorian are all facets of Wilde's own personality, it could be interpreted that the personification of Wilde's perceived wit and supposed corrupting influence has killed off the personification of goodness and corrupted (and then killed) the personification of innocence. Thus, homosexuality is a corruptive and evil force that destroys goodness and innocence, as was the view at the time.
    • Or the fact that Henry's left standing is Wilde's comment on Becoming the Mask.
    • Or, possibly on a more abstract viewpoint, that Wilde was suggesting that eventually who he wanted to be and who he saw himself as would eventually die with him, however the way everyone else saw him would be the thing to live on and be known.

Did Dorian love Henry the way Basil loved him, or was he just tempted by the lifestyle he showed him?
  • Though, the script did write that Henry was too clever and cynical to be really fond of.
  • This is the sort of thing that's very open to interpretation but my reading is that Dorian is too wrapped up in himself to actually love anyone with any real passion. But Henry remains amusing and greatly influenced his view on life so Dorian sticks with him even as he tends to abandon other friends/lovers when they begin to bore him.

Doesn't the painting age faster than anyone is likely to have done?
  • Dorian is (roughly) thirty-eight at the end of the novel. Descriptions of the picture, and most film depictions of it, seem more like someone over seventy. Even given the Beauty Equals Goodness ideas that the story hinges on, it seems extreme.
    • Maybe not- Dorian was abusing opiates, which can make people seem to age really badly.
    • Also, as he's clearly implied to have indulged in sexual sins, he may have tertiary syphilis by now- in which case his appearance got off lightly compared to that of many sufferers.
    • The portrait does more than age. The visual appearance of the painting reflects the the evil of Dorian's soul. The more evil he commits, the more grotesque the painting becomes.
    • Also keep in mind that many Victorians actually believed that a person's moral character was visibly reflected in the features of their face. There was a whole pseudoscience dedicated to studying the connection between the two, called "physiognomy." And whether or not Wilde actually believed in the pseudoscience, it was especially common as an easy character indicator in Victorian fiction—think of all the exaggerated physical descriptions in the novels of Charles Dickens, for instance.

Where does it state that Alan Campbell was Basil's ex-lover? I've seen that everywhere except in the actual text... am I missing something important?
  • It could be what Dorian used to blackmail Alan into disposing of Basil's body. It's never revealed what Dorian wrote on the paper that frightened Alan so, but given the Victorian mindset regarding homosexuality, and Oscar Wilde's first-hand experience with it, it's quite possible that Dorian threatened to make Alan and Basil's escapades public knowledge.
  • Though it could be case, the book doesn't reveal anything. It does, however, also mention that he had done some questionable experiments, or at least experiments that were unorthodox to raise eyebrows among his peers. It could be something along those lines. Perhaps Alan Campbell tried to reanimate a human corpse?
  • It's also been suggested that Alan was Dorian's ex-lover, though of course that raises more issues if we assume that Dorian scared him by threatening to reveal his secret. (Dorian wouldn't have wanted to be found out, either.) It does make the disposal scene more sad/disturbing if Alan is getting rid of his own lover's corpse, which is probably where the Basil theory came from. I tend to believe that Alan and Dorian simply ran in the same circles, and that Dorian knew enough about Alan's debaucheries to cause him trouble if he wanted to.